Dick Collver has never been one to shrink from a political challenge, but last week it wasn’t hard to find people who figured the former Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative leader had embarked on a cause doomed to failure. Just four months after he stepped down as PC leader, Collver made the break with the past complete when he announced he was going to sit as an independent in the Saskatchewan legislature and espouse political union of Western Canada with the United States.
The immediate reaction to Coliver’s stunning decision seemed a mixture of belly laughs and unease. Suddenly, Saskatchewan had spawned its own separatist leader and Collver, 44, made it clear he was serious.
“The decision crystallized in my mind when I heard the results of the federal election,” explains Collver, who had been at his winter ranch home in Arizona at the time. “I had thought continued negotiations could work, that it was the political leaders holding us back, but the election proved the people are the problem.” The message Collver drew from the way the Liberals campaigned in Ontario was an appeal “to keep the wealth in the east,” and the Liberal sweep convinced him that’s all easterners wanted.
If he was serious, then so were a lot of other people. Within two days Collver had received close to 100 phone calls from points as far apart as Montreal and Victoria, the majority backing him on western amalgamation with the U.S. But with his startling move the man who, virtually alone, resurrected a ragtag Conservative party holding an insignificant two per cent of the popular vote to official Opposition status in five
years seemed to have put himself back to square one.
Collver had moulded the Conservatives into a threat to the mighty NDP, banishing the Liberals from the electoral map on the way to 17 seats in the 1978 election. But as the Conservative cause rose so did Collver’s personal stock tumble. In the year preceding the last election he became entangled in several lawsuits. First he took action against his former business partners over division of property and no sooner had that been settled out of court than he faced a suit from Crown-owned Saskatchewan Government Insurance. The most bizarre event came last November when he was charged with improper use and storage of an unregistered restricted weapon. He was fined $500, had a .357 magnum snub-nosed revolver confiscated and, when he left soon after to winter in Arizona, many thought his final act would be to resign his Nipawin seat.
Last Tuesday, two days after he arrived back in Regina for the spring session, Collver called a press conference for what political observers assumed would be his resignation from the assembly. Instead, he outlined his new political vision of an Americanized Western Canada. “I look at it this way,”
he theorizes. “According to the Canada West Foundation, I represent only four per cent of opinion in Western Canada. That is exactly double what I had in 1973 when I took over the Conservatives.” No wonder some people feel uneasy. Dale Eisler
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